Rides for rescues: 'Mutt Movers' transport dogs hundreds of miles to happy homes

When Martha Chandler heard about 9-year-old Sarge, a dog in need of transportation to a new home after he was found sitting loyally by the side of his deceased owner, she was quick to lend a hand. It didn't matter that the boxer-St. Bernard mix was in Washington, D.C., and his new home with the man's daughter was more than 1,000 miles away in Kansas.

While Chandler's nonprofit in Akron, Ohio, Martha’s Mutt Movers, usually arranges long-distance carpools for dogs rescued from high-kill shelters, she was more than willing to make an exception for Sarge.

“I can’t imagine what they’re thinking when they lose someone close to them,” Chandler, 49, told TODAY.com. “He was my favorite transport; he got to go home with his sister. She was so happy to have him out there in honor of her dad.”

Martha's Mutt Movers functions with the help of volunteers spread out across the nation, who are willing to pick up a dog or two (or three or four) from a specified location, drive for about an hour, and drop them off with another driver, a process that is repeated until the pup reaches its final destination: a safe, happy home. Almost all the dogs are taken from high-kill shelters, and many are just days away from being put down.

Chandler is not alone in her efforts. Mutt Movers is part of a flourishing network of nonprofits and informal groups that have popped up to transport rescued animals to homes that are sometimes hundreds of miles away. This passionate group of animal lovers, which includes many truck drivers and pilots, is driven by the desire to help the hundreds of creatures languishing in high-kill shelters across the country.

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"Even if it’s one dog, that is one dog that’s given a new life, that didn’t have a chance before, that would've been dead two days ago if they weren't on this transport," Chandler told TODAY's Jill Rappaport. 

Chandler got her start transporting six tiny pit bull puppies, but soon found she wanted to make more of an impact during the few days a week she wasn't working as an accountant for the city of Akron. She decided to take the nonprofit route and assists drivers with fuel money for their efforts. 

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Though Chandler doesn't keep precise records of the number of dogs her organization has transported, she estimates they've moved about 1,000 dogs (around 10 every weekend) in the past two years. She was told that her transportation efforts for dogs rescued by German Shorthaired Pointers Rescue New England saved that group $3,000 in one year, allowing volunteers to dedicate more funds to other dogs.

“People don’t realize what they’re doing just by volunteering a leg of the trip on the weekend,” she said.

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Chandler calls these volunteer drivers the “backbone” of her organization since “it can’t be done” without them. Though she has thousands of volunteer contacts, she hopes to recruit more since the most dedicated volunteers often have to shoulder most of the work.

“One woman took a leg of the trip even though her daughter was graduating from high school because no one else could fill it,” Chandler said. “She couldn’t see the transport fail.”

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While Chandler says that working in the dog rescue world can be emotionally taxing given “all the horror stories” out there, she’s constantly uplifted by the generous people who make up the network.

“Everybody just helps everybody,” she said. “It’s an amazing world.”

Learn more about the work of Martha's Mutt Movers here.

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A Los Angeles animal photographer is on a mission: To change people's perceptions of older dogs and help more gray-muzzled pooches find loving homes. See images from her "My Old Dog" project here.


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